For the second year in a row, a Melbourne venue has taken out the top prize in the Wineslinger Awards – an annual Australian event that recognises the country’s best places to drink and experience wine.

Beloved CBD restaurant Embla was named the 2021 Wineslinger, with judges calling it a Melbourne icon. “[It’s] a dogma-free temple to wine that is made from the ground up, by hand and with minimal tinkering, and all paired with Dave Verheul’s breathtakingly simple fire-fuelled cooking.

“It’s a place you slip into effortlessly, with a warm and generous air – absolutely of the moment, but not concerned with fashion and timeless because of it.”

Owners Verheul and Christian McCabe were excited about the win, acknowledging the city and fellow hospo operators for emerging through the rough period of lockdown. “Congratulations to all our team and suppliers, as well as all the other restaurants and bars that have managed to navigate through these past few months, this one’s for all of us,” McCabe said in a statement.

A Sydney venue took out the newcomer award – the Best New Haunt was given to P&V Wine and Liquor Merchants Paddington, a bottle shop and wine bar owned by Lou Dowling and wine commentator and writer Mike Bennie. It opened earlier this year and instantly became an essential destination for lovers of interesting wine. Like the influential natural-wine festival, Rootstock, which Bennie was also behind, it has become a nexus for winemakers and wine appreciators, and a joyful community hub.

Perth’s Si Paradiso won the Maverick, an award that recognises venues pushing the boundaries of possibility. “[It's] a venue that takes its wine as seriously as it does its quest for good times," the judges said.

“Incredibly inclusive, whether you're there for a quick wine in the courtyard, a civilised meal in the dining room, or an all-out boogie. The wine list is packed with new-wave, lo-fi and organic options. Its vibe is definitely out there, a sort-of long lost discoteca straight from 1980s Italy. Then there’s chef Paul Bentley's food, which is as good as modern Italian gets,” Wineslinger founder Rory Kent says.

Lastly, the People’s Choice was won by laidback neighbourhood bar Good Gilbert in Adelaide’s Goodwood. “Good Gilbert is the kind of local we all wish we had, with an exciting, diverse and well-priced wine list, en pointe simple food and uber-friendly but deeply knowledgeable crew. It’s the ideal of a local wine bar,” Kent says.

More than 150 of the country’s leading sommeliers, winemakers, hospitality tastemakers and journalists voted for the three awards, while the People’s Choice was publicly voted. The Wineslinger Awards was born in 2018 by the same people who run the Young Gun of Wine winemaker awards as a way to direct people towards Australia's most fun wine experiences. The awards were held in person at an event in Melbourne last night.

This year it also introduced a Top 100 places list, with 20 venues named in Sydney and Melbourne; 10 in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth; and five in Canberra and Tasmania, plus regional locations.

“They're not about one component such as food and wine matching, or the wine list, or the service, it is about the whole experience. What draws us all to those places where we like to enjoy wine is really the sum of the parts,” says Kent.

wineslinger-awards/2021